Sunday, June 28, 2009

Impressions of India

Quick – Free association

What comes to mind with the word India?





Gandhi & Nehru

The Great game


Kama Sutra



Khyber Pass



The Raj


Gunga Din

Little Black Sambo

The man Who Would be King


Buddhists, Hindu, Jainism, Muslim, Sikh

Sepoy Revolt

Slumdog Millionaire


Taj Mahal

Temple Carvings

All these and more are India.

Four full days in Delhi/New Delhi/Agra can no more convey the essence, heart and soul of India and its peoples, than four days in San Francisco, Ann Arbor, Ada, Ohio, Tacoma and Seattle, Washington, Wilbraham and Springfield, Massachusetts, and Orange County, California, all of where I have lived, or 4 days visiting New York City or Washington, D.C., will give you America.

Four days cannot provide the culture, diversity, essence, ethnicity, foods, heart, mores, regional prejudices, religions, and soul of the country, but they can provide flavors, glimpses, and vignettes.

The first impression was the heightened state of security at Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. Uniformed paramilitary (CISF) with semi-automatics patrolled the airport with a strong presence. We forget that India has been at war with terrorism decades longer than the United States. Over 110,000 Central Industrial Security Force guard the nation’s airports, government buildings, parks and monuments, and industrial facilities.

The second impression was one of the hustle of some to earn a tip, any tip. As we were leaving the terminal, an unsolicited guy suddenly appears out of nowhere, grabs a suitcase, carries it to the waiting car, and sticks out his hand. The car is not going anywhere until he receives the tip.

And the third impression was the 24/7, 365 days construction around the airport. India is building.

None of these three are on my list, but they are integral to India today.

Churchill once said India was not a country. What he said was that “India is merely a geographical expression. It is no more a single country than the equator.” He was right in that historically only the British conquered and held the Subcontinent for any length of time.

Churchill was right in that his India split into India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

Churchill was wrong. The British lowered their flag in 1947 and the Indian tri-color was raised.

Today’s India is a great country.

India is one of the greatest and oldest civilizations.

India is a country of color and contrast.

India is a country of diversity in which the ethnic and religious diversity are proudly worn and displayed.

India is a culture in which the affluent youth model themselves after American culture, values and mores.

India is not a hegemony, a monolithic people. Like America it is a melting pot, not of the world, but of the assimilations of waves of Eurasian peoples, religions, and conquerors with some British thrown into the pot. Persians, Afghans, Mongols are in the mix.

India holds onto its heritage, preserving some of the world’s greatest archeological and historic sites.

India is chaos, bordering on anarchy, but India works.

India is Bollywood, Bindass videos, and Bindass movies, and Bindass music.

India is a country which has shed its socialist past and embraced capitalism.

India has created a middle class of 300-350 million people (the entire population of the United States), but still has 600 million in abject poverty.

India is entrepreneurism, even at the street level of the sidewalk chef.

India is the diamond, gold, and jewelry trade.

India is energy.

India is service.

India is hustle, in every dictionary sense of the word.

India is the birthplace of great religions – Buddhism, Hindu, Sikh, and Jainism.

India is a nation of castes eventhough the India Constitution of 1947 prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste.

India is green – hydro, CNG, and diesel.

India is a country of small cars; everything is in miniature. The two largest cars I saw were one Honda Accord and one Toyota Camry.

India is a land of richness and squalor.

India is pathos.

India is the austere.

India is resiliency.

India is relentless construction.

India is a nation whose expatriates have enriched the world.

India is a country of higher education, with schools of business, computer science, engineering, law and medicine. (The University of Delphi has twice as many applicants as UCLA).

India has unleashed the genius of its people.

India is high tech, cell phones, call centers, and outsourcing, even for American lawyers.

India is a country of low income housing: tent cities, canvas hutches, corrugated tin hutches, thatch grass hutches, fabric hutches, makeshift shanty towns, residential construction sites at night when the construction workers have left, and just sleeping on the sidewalk- all less expensive than FEMA trailers.

India is a land of infinite, huddled masses, similar to the Lower East Side of a century ago.

India is now Indian, Japanese, and Korean brand names. I did see though the American names of Aquafina, Camel, Chevrolet, Citibank, Coke, Exide, Ford, Ford tractors, John Deere, Kelvinator, Kimberly Clark, Kohler, Lays, Lees, Levis, MacDonalds, Marlboro, MetLife, New Holland, New York Life, Nike, Pepsi, Pizza Hut, Pringles, Reebok, Revlon, Ritz, Seven Up, Subway, Tropicana, and Whirlpool.

I know the major U.S. hotel chains are in India, but I’ll probably never be able to find them.

I did not see fakirs, holy men, snake charmers, or temple carvings, but they must exist. I also saw no camels, cobras, elephants, monkeys or tigers, but they exist.

India is cricket.

The key to tourist survival in India is hydration from bottled water.

India is a state of mind

India is mystery.

India is magic.

The two images indelibly inscribed in my memory are The Taj Mahal and a young, beggar mother who stuck her small, naked baby onto the car window.

Four days is not enough; the allure of India is too seductive.

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